American folklore loves to celebrate the rugged individual that blazed trails for all to follow. Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, the young Abraham Lincoln. All these big, rugged, self-sufficient men took on the world single handedly and prevailed. Poppycock! While I don't want to disparage or diminish the efforts of any of these individuals, they each had help and support at every step of their journey.
And if you're going to be a successful leader, you had better have a support system as well. The reality is that leading is a learned trait, and this trait is hard—make that impossible! — to master, and it requires you to work at it continuously. While you can certainly take a shot at "going it alone," a much better approach is to learn from those around you.
The lessons that I'm sharing here come from a number of individuals with whom I had the privilege of interacting over the years. In some cases, I never had an explicit discussion with them on the topic. With others, we spoke openly about the topic. But in all cases, their help accelerated my learning process exponentially.
Some of you are probably thinking, "Well that's easy enough to say, but the folks that come to mind would never be willing to mentor me." Again, poppycock! A good leader is always learning, and the deepest learning comes via teaching. I guarantee you that each and every leader you identify cherishes the opportunity to develop other individuals.
Furthermore, asking someone to serve in the mentor role is about the sincerest compliment you can pay them. When you make the request, you are telling that person that you think they are extraordinary, and that they possess a special skill that you would love to have. Think about it: if someone came to you and asked you to mentor them in something, how would you react?
The worst possible case that I can envision is that the person lets you know they would like to, but time is very tight and it would be difficult for them to give you the attention you deserve. My guess is the next words out of their mouth will be, "But I know of someone else who might be able to help." If that's NOT their response, turn it around: "Do you know of someone else who could help me become a better leader?" And in the hugely unlikely case that none of this works, so what? There's got to be another person around who you can learn from on this topic.
Now there's a corollary here that is critical.
Too early for you? I doubt it. If you have read this far and are considering even putting 1/4 of these ideas "in to play," you're miles ahead of others. Work with your mentee to help them learn and grow. In the process, you'll likely learn more than you can ever imagine. The reality is that once you start learning about leadership, you gain new knowledge each and every day. However, often you don't recognize all that you have learned until you are "forced to explain."
When you work with your mentee, you'll be required to explain "why,” and—in the process of doing so—the knowledge you have learned will move from your subconscious to your conscious mind. It will be through sharing that you truly take the next step on your leadership journey.
ACTION ITEM 17 - By the end of next week, identify and sit down with your leadership mentor.
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